Gone With the Wind
Directed by Victor Fleming
Forget Avatar and the equally-overblown and over-rated Titanic
The most profitable movie of all time – adjusting to inflation – is this celluloid adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel of the same name, a veritable glorification of the conservatism of the South, a loving homage to an era of heavy petticoats, heaving bosoms, tight corsets and delicious ‘taches all painted most ardently in full Technicolor.
Set aside the South-pandering (See, Mam… there ain’t discontented slaves ‘round these hy’ar parts!) and you get a film so artfully crafted in loving detail, so immense in scope it has set a standard for future epic films. Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments and the other epics that followed might have shattered standards and expectations set during their time, but they all owe everything to Gone with the Wind, the grandmother of all epics.
Gone With the Wind, for those three of you who have been shacked up with a naked goat somewhere in Mongolia, tells the story of rich spoiled, impetuous Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and the men in her life Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) set against the backdrop of the eve of the Civil War. As she juggles her time between saving Tara, the family estate, getting widowed (TWICE!) and flirting with her two beaus, Scarett is at once a victim of Hollywood stereotype (the harlot) and a template for the strong, stubborn woman. Of course, this being the conservative 30’s, place is no place for strong stubborn women.
Such is the mark of Gone. Sidney Howard’s script is rife with characters so broadly drawn, there seems no place for gray areas. Thus we have black-and-white characters (bad girl Scarlett vs. good girl Melanie Hamilton) and straight man Ashley vs. roguish Rhett. And of course, which film about the South would not have its share of Negro stereotypes? Thus, there’s Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy and Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy, both acting out cookie-cutter African-American servants with such relish, that scratching sound you are hearing just now is probably Malcolm X clawing out of his grave.
But again, I digress.
Politics aside, Gone is nearly flawless. Vivien Leigh IS Scarlett, and Clark Gable’s middle name is just oozing positively with S-E-X. I say nearly, because there is the unfortunate matter of Leslie Howard’s anaemic charmless acting as Ashley Wilkes.
Much has been said about the production design of Gone. I’ve watched it several times now and always find something new to keep my jaws clattering to the floor. Sure, I wouldn’t DREAM of wearing petticoats in the sweltering weather (I’m not an idiot, if you know what I mean) and I would even think of crushing my kidneys by wearing that torture device called the corset, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t stop for once and admire them as they are worn by someone else. Tara also seemed to have a life of its own as seen through the lenses of Ernest Haller – the gold of the Tara’s earth seemed to imbue a darker sheen when it was all but devastated by the Union soldiers pre-Reconstruction, while the greens seemed to be greener as Scarlett went back to her feet and vowed to keep the estate from falling.
For all its grandeur and spectacle, Gone’s almost four-hour running time will prove to be a challenge for viewers weaned on the CG of Transformers and the great crap-and-cheese combo of the latest Twilight movie. Really, if you have the attention span of a toddler and you need giant robots to keep you entertained every five minutes, then you better skip this (and it wouldn’t matter since all film buffs have seen this anyway).
In fact, I don’t think the legacy of the film will suffer if an idiot refuses to watch it and prefer instead to watch yet another comic-book adaptation about web-slingers. Gone is much too big a film for that.
As Gable’s Butler said: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
And that, I believe, is the film’s core. It’s too damn big and influential to feel insecure about eye-candy heart-stoppers like Avatar, Titanic and the much-worshipped Rings trilogy.
Such is the power of a classic. And for all its political incorrectness, Gone is exactly that.
Notes while watching Gone with the Wind:
- The hoop skirts, the layered petticoats, the tight corsets. I pity the ladies. Tell me, what would you do when nature calls and you absolutely have to go? I guess that was what perfumes were for at that time.
- Scarlett prefers Ashley over Rhett. Quick, get the girl an appointment from the optometrist!
- At one point, Scarlett complains that she was getting big when she took her measurement and discovered to her horror that her waistline had gone from 18 to 20. And that scene spurred bouts of vomiting from figure-conscious teen-agers in America.
- After a fight, Rhett upped and ravished impertinent Scarlett, who we later learn secretly enjoyed the treatment. My next-door neighbour tried it and all he got were chicken scratches on his face and a pending rape charge.
- In the movie, the cotton-pickers were actually HAPPY to fight the war for the Confederates and shoot them abolitionists. Malcolm X is turning over his grave.
- Melanie Hamilton is either the kindest person in the world, or the biggest idiot. I go for the latter.
- Could not find a contented Negro in the South? That’s because the O’Haras have hired all of them. Oh, you can find some of them with Benjamin Martin’s employ. Don’t believe me? Watch The Patriot starring Mel Gibson.
- Negroes are better off servile, because when freed, they’d rape your women and children. Or at least, that’s what the movie wants us to know.